in Indonesia, West Papua

Indonesia’s Constitutional Court returns customary forests to indigenous peoples

Yesterday, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court ruled that indigenous peoples’ customary forests should not be classed as “State Forest Areas”. This is a landmark ruling and an important step for the recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights in Indonesia.

In March 2012, Indonesia’s national indigenous peoples’ organisation, AMAN (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara), filed a petition to the Court. Yesterday’s ruling is a response to AMAN’s petition.

Indonesia’s 1999 Forestry Law previously stated that “customary forests are state forests located in the areas of custom-based communities”. The Constitutional Court’s ruling deletes the word “state” from that sentence. The ruling revised the Law so that state forests no longer include customary forests.

UPDATE – 21 May 2013: The Constitutional Court’s review of the 1999 Forest Law is available here (pdf file, 973.7 kB, in Bahasa Indonesia).

A film produced last year by Telapak and Gekko Studio explains the importance of forests for Indonesia’s indigenous peoples:

AMAN’s press release on the Constitutional Court ruling is posted below.

Constitutional Court Agrees on Judicial Review of UUK

AMAN press release 16 May 2013
Jakarta, 16 May 2013 – Constitutional Court has accepted the Judicial Review of some parts of Act No. 41/1999 on Forestry (Undang-Undang Kehutanan or UUK) submitted by the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), Thursday (16/5).
Although the Court didn’t agree on all requested reviews, AMAN warmly welcomes the decision announced in Plenary Hall of Constitutional Court. This ruling means that the Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago are legal subjects and customary forests are not State forests. Hence Indigenous Peoples will get back their rights over their customary forests seized by the State through UUK.
“AMAN submitted the judicial review in March 2012 and its series of sessions ended in June. Good things come to those who wait. About 40 millions Indigenous Peoples now are rightful over our customary forests because the State has become unable to expel us out of our customary forests that have become our source of livelihood from generation to generation,” said Secretary-General of AMAN Abdon Nababan.
AMAN perceives that the UUK was deliberately legalized to take over customary forests and give them to capital owners through various license schemes. These so-called legal seizures practically happen on all around Indonesia.
The exploitation of customary forests has been proven threatening to the sustainability of Indigenous Peoples and damaging environment. Both the Ministry of Forestry and Statistics Indonesia (BPS) show that there are 31,957 interacting with forests and 71.06 percent of them heavily depend on forest resources.
UUK is not the only Act violating Indigenous Peoples’ rights over their customary forests. Last month the House of Representatives secretly discussed the Draft Act on Eradication of Deforestation (RUU P2H) potentially criminalizing Indigenous Peoples whose livelihoods heavily depending on forests.
“Holding onto Constitutional Court’s ruling today, AMAN will keep fighting for Indigenous Peoples to get back our rights over our customary forests that have become our source of livelihood from generation to generation,” added Abdon Nababan.


Leave a Reply

  1. Personally I don’t think that a simply court rule will automatically make things better especially considering the high levels of corruption within the country’s forestry system and also Indonesia’s terrible treatment of its indigenous peoples especially in West Papua. Here’s the latest post in my blog where I explain more about this.

  2. Thank you very much for this interesting news. I am an Italian researcher in International Law. I would be very interested in reading the decision by the Indonesian Constitutional Court, which is here available in the original version. Do you know where I may find an English (French or Spanish) translation?

  3. @Simone Vezzani (#5) – I’m sorry, I’m not aware of any translations of the document. If I hear of a translation (or summary reports), I’ll post them.